In 2009, Time magazine named Neil Blomkamp as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the year. He was hot off the success of Best Picture nominee District 9, and any movie franchise he wanted was his for the taking. If he’d announced he was going to take on the Alien franchise then, nerd fandom would have likely shit themselves with excitement. The guy was the rock star of science-fiction world, and instead of throwing his lot in with a familiar property he decided to stick to developing his own original ideas. This was a decision I respected a lot, given my thoughts on directors taking the opportunity to develop original stories before getting swept into multi-year contract obligations. But three years later we got Elysium.
I stand by the opinion that Elysium isn’t a bad film, but it’s a heavy-handed, unevenly scripted disappointment. Blomkamp’s reputation took notable blows, doubt began to sink in that maybe this guy was a one hit wonder. Still, I kept the faith. One mediocre movie would not destroy a career. Even the greats had their pitfalls. When Chappie’s marketing began in earnest, I wasn’t impressed by the trailer, but I was confident Blomkamp had learned from his mistakes. On the heels of Chappie’s release came the Alien 5 concept art and the subsequent announcement that Blomkamp would be entering Xenomorph territory with Sigourney Weaver. I was excited to say the least, and was certain that one of my all-time favorite film franchises was in good hands. If 20th Century Fox was trusting Blomkamp with this property then he surely had big things in store for us. Then I saw Chappie. Full disclosure, when I decided to write about my hopes for Alien 5 and defend Blomkamp’s career, I had yet to see Chappie. The optimism that I once had still remains. Yes, it’s been beaten by a two-hour contender for what will likely be one of the worst major releases of the year, but my optimism still remains. Let me tell you why.
I’ve read enough of the recent interviews with Blomkamp to know that he is a fan of the Alien franchise, that he has a great admiration for the source material. That fandom is a good place to start. After all, it’s far better than being stuck with someone who isn’t really invested or knowledgeable about the property. His alleged plans to stick close to Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens gives me a lot of confidence. While I enjoy Alien 3 (the Assembly Cut, thanks to suggestion by fellow writer Diego Crespo) and Alien Resurrection has its moments (nothing that has Ron Perlman in it can be completely bad), I don’t really care if Blomkamp pulls a Superman Returns and removes Alien 3 and Resurrection from continuity. Sure, it’d be nice if he found a way not to do that, but at the end of the day, I want a good Alien film. If forging a new timeline is what it takes to make that happen, then so be it.
But fandom can only take Blomkamp so far. After all, I don’t want him to lean so heavily on the first two films that he’s just catering towards nostalgia, but with more CGI and vehicle flipping (I’m looking at you Terminator: Genisys). Blomkamp has said he has story ideas for Alien 5 that he’s worked out with Sigourney Weaver, which brings me to the script. Blomkamp isn’t a particularly good screenwriter. District 9 had a good script, but it was also based off a short film and Blomkamp has spent the rest of his career borrowing heavily from those themes and that design aesthetic. Where Blomkamp shines is in concept and ideas. He’s the guy you want to see “story by” and not “written by.” It’s clear from Blomkamp’s concept art that he has some fantastic ideas for the Alien universe, now he just needs a screenwriter to help him translate those ideas into character arcs that make sense and plot points that aren’t contrived. For as many faults as Elysium and Chappie have, the ideas are good. In Blomkamp’s ideas I trust.
On the directorial side of things, I’m thinking, make that praying, that Blomkamp will step away from relying on his design trademarks. I think his special effects always look great (WETA is top dog), but they’re also starting to take on a degree of sameness. I want an Alien film to look like H.R. Giger’s art, instead of the not too distant future of Johannesburg, South Africa. I think it’s time for a Neil Blomkamp film to not immediately look like a Neil Blomkamp film. Sure there will be recognizable aspects, but it’s time for him to prove his imagination can stretch outside of his own head and into other worlds. As much as I hate to say it, I think that studio involvement may be necessary with Alien 5. Blomkamp has resisted doing studio franchises for that very reason for years, but he’s getting in his own way. 20th Century Fox has really turned itself around since Tom Rothman left (just look at the Apes franchise now) and I think Blomkamp is going to need its help, and I think producer Ridley Scott (who may be sleepwalking at this point, I’m not sure) is going to need its help. It’s time for Blomkamp to get more collaborative than ever before, and after Chappie’s box office performance last weekend, that seems like something we can rely on.
I consider myself an optimist about most movies, at least until I see one or two trailers. I think Blomkamp, for all his faults, still has a lot to say and a lot to contribute to the science-fiction genre. Raising him to the heights he was at in 2009 was likely premature (every critic who has referred to him as an auteur can sit on that absurdly early assessment). And tearing him down so suddenly after Elysium was also premature. While I reject the notion that critics have purposefully tried to tear down Blomkamp because of Alien (I doubt their investment in it has that much weight), I do think it’s too early to write him off. Even after leaving Chappie with a migraine, I thought to myself “Yeah, I’ll see his next film, and I’ll be there opening day.” I want Blomkamp to be as good as we all thought he was after District 9, and I want Alien 5 to breathe much needed new life into his career. Sure, there will likely be problems with it. You know he can’t resist a third act mecha-suit battle, so expect Ripley in the Power Loader. And you know he won’t abandon Sharlto Copley, despite his questionable acting abilities and inability to shake his accent. But I firmly believe the film will be an upswing for him, his first steps towards earning that “From Director Neil Blomkamp” title. And if he brings back Newt as an ass-kicking adult, well that’s worth a few extra points in my book.
So chins up fans. We’re getting a new Alien movie, and I don’t see how it could be worse than AVP: Requiem.